Monday, February 2, 2009

Uptown's "Clash of Cultures"

I've been going over the Uptown Small Area Plan, a wonderful and comprehensive document produced after many, many hours of meetings, discussions, interviews, research, and a lot of compromises. While the planning process took place a few years ago, the information is still relevant. What's more, the conflicts and opinions expressed are undoubtedly still bubbling away under the surface. One issue in particular struck me while reading the appendices. During the September 11, 2007 meeting, several unnamed committee members brought up what they called a "clash of cultures" in the neighborhood, pitting those "drawn to Uptown because of its entertainment options" against those who "view it as a traditional neighborhood." Thank goodness several committee members pointed out the common sense view that "Uptown can be both."

This "clash of cultures" remains one of the primary issues facing the neighborhood. I have a feeling that if we pulled together a similar group of people today this issue would still be raised. It is, at the heart of it, two ideologically different views of what Uptown has been, and what it could and should be in the future. I have some strong opinions on the matter myself:

The "clash of cultures" should be redefined. While I agree that there are people who are drawn to Uptown because of its nightlife, I heartily reject the notion that these same people cannot appreciate a "traditional neighborhood." I would redraw the two camps between "people who prefer a quiet, less-traditionally urban neighborhood" and "people who want a city neighborhood with all of the associated amenities."

What the heck does "traditional" mean? Who are these people who think that bars, nightclubs, and other "entertainment" options can't have a place in a traditional neighborhood? "Traditional" is purely subjective. And, in the case of Uptown, it's often misused to suggest a mythical past in which the neighborhood was quiet and went to sleep at 7:00 pm. The reality was much richer and more interesting. Uptown of the past offered plentiful evening entertainment options (for both residents and visitors alike) as well as a wide array of daytime offerings like shops, offices, schools, and basic services and amenities.

Uptown residents should be able to enjoy a night out without getting on the bus or in the car. Well-managed nightlife can benefit residents, too. It brings business to the neighborhood, gives local residents some local nightlife options, and keeps people out on the streets at night. The trick is in getting the balance right: Uptown doesn't want drunks puking in yards, revelers singing in the streets in the early morning, or entertainment-focused businesses to push out other daytime retail and service businesses. If done right, Uptowners can walk to the store and the pharmacy during the daytime, then meet up with friends for a drink later that night.

The Traditionalists are anything but traditional. Their vision of traditional is not a good fit for Uptown. Uptown is - and has been - an urban city neighborhood. Minneapolis has many other wonderful options for quieter neighborhoods with nice neighborhood coffee shops and plentiful parking. Linden Hills and Kenwood both come to mind. Uptown used to be a vibrant, around-the-clock kind of place; why not revitalize it back to its former glory rather than shoehorn it into something that doesn't fit?

I grew up watching Sesame Street, reading Jane Jacobs, and visiting cities around the United States and the world. My ideal urban neighborhood has a full range of business and residential offerings. In other words, I want what I consider to be a "traditional" city neighborhood, one that offers something for everyone and manages to blend it all together to serve residents of all ages and backgrounds. The Traditionalists are the ones who are also most likely to start talking about Uptown's "character" and "uniqueness" - why not truly live up to those standards and not try to turn Uptown into another Linden Hills? Many of us want and deserve a safe and vibrant, and dare I say, traditional, urban neighborhood that - gasp - includes some nightlife. It's time for those of us who support this vision (one that is supported by Uptown's history) to stand up and let our voices be heard.


  1. It's very likely that a strong majority of those living in Uptown fall into your category of "people who want a city neighborhood with all of the associated amenities," especially when you consider this area's rental population.

    Unfortunately, our neighborhood boards tend to be over-representative of that other constituency, those who see Uptown as too busy, too loud, and too all-hours already. And it's no secret that these organizations (valuable as they are) are perceived as the primary voice of local residents.

    How do we better involve the generally-silent majority who want a more liveable community but just don't have an interest in local politics?

  2. Although not a current Uptown resident (although I hope a future one!) I very much appreciate hearing another voice articulate such similar views on this subject. As a historian, my personal pet peeve includes people who throw around historical precedent to support a view of Uptown that is not based on reality.

    I would like to think that I will become involved with the neighborhood boards when we move back to Uptown, but the reality is that for many of us - myself included - it can be difficult to attend meetings on a regular basis. Work schedules, young children, evening college classes - these can all minimize involvement. Language barriers also come to mind. I don't what the solution should be, but agree that the current system is not fully functioning to represent the broad spectrum of Uptown residents.